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Local bridges in NY need ‘staggering’ repairs

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A controlled blast brought down the unused Interstate 81 bridges over the Chenango River in September 2015, one of the final steps in Phase 1 of the Prospect Mountain project.. Anthony Borrelli / Staff video

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ALBANY — Bridges owned by New York’s local governments need a whopping $27 billion in repairs, a report Tuesday said.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said his findings show municipalities face “staggering” needs to repairs its bridges. Three-quarters of repairs are in New York City: $20.4 billion of the $27.4 billion estimated for all local bridges.

The report found some good news: The number of “structurally deficient” locally owned bridges has declined in recent years. A “structurally deficient” bridge — a federal label — means it is still safe to drive on but has load-bearing elements in poor condition or are prone to repeated flooding.

Nonetheless, the report comes at a time of uncertainty for state and local governments as Congress and President Donald Trump consider changes to infrastructure aid.

“Local communities are facing a big price tag for maintaining and repairing bridges,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “These structures are aging and the cost for repairs will likely only increase over time.”

Database: Check the condition of your county’s bridges

Local governments, mostly counties, own 8,834 out of 17,462 bridges in New York, carrying average daily traffic of 33 million vehicles.

The highest number of “structurally deficient” local bridges were in New York City at 86, followed by the counties of Erie at 52, Ulster at 46 and Steuben at 40.

Counties with the highest percentage of structurally deficient local bridges were three small counties: Seneca at 35 percent, Cayuga at 28 percent and Hamilton at 24 percent.

Tompkins County ranked 12th in the state in the percentage of structurally deficient bridges, with 34, or 17 percent, of its 195 bridges meeting the classification.

Chemung County had 13 percent of its bridges deemed structurally deficient, while Broome County fared better, ranking sixth best in the state with just 27, or 5.8 percent of its 462 bridges, deficient.

Overall, nearly 13 percent of locally owned bridges are labeled “structurally deficient” compared with 9 percent of state-owned bridges, the report found.

The worst were town-owned bridges, with 18 percent of them to be structurally deficient.

Still, the number of bridges in the category has dropped from 17 percent since 2002, the report said.

In the category of “functionally obsolete” bridges — those that are not structurally unsound but do not meet current design standards — the mid-Hudson Valley had the third most at 27 percent of them, behind the city and Long Island.

The cost to repair local bridges is just a piece of the statewide repairs needed, DiNapoli noted.

With nearly 17,500 highway bridges in New York, the needed repairs total $75 billion when state-owned bridges are included, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory.

DiNapoli said municipalities face financial challenges to fund bridge repairs because they are generally responsible for the upkeep, but they can get state and federal aid.

The problem, he said, is that state aid for some infrastructure programs has remained flat in recent years, though the state last year created the BRIDGE NY program, which provided $200 million to fund 132 local bridges and culvert projects.

The Federal Highway Administration also can cover up to 80 percent of eligible costs for bridge repairs, leaving the state and local governments to come up with rest.

There is also emergency relief funding if bridges are damaged in major storms.

In the Southern Tier

  • Broome has 462 bridges, with an average age of 44 years. Federal data show 6 percent are structurally deficient and 21 are functionally obsolete.
  • Cayuga has 144 bridges, with an average age of 47 years. Federal data show 22 percent are structurally deficient and 17 are functionally obsolete.
  • Chemung has 256 bridges, with an average age of 43 years. Federal data show 13 percent are structurally deficient and 12 are functionally obsolete.
  • Chenango has 255 bridges, with an average age of 44 years. Federal data show 12 percent are structurally deficient and 6 are functionally obsolete.
  • Cortland has 192 bridges, with an average age of 45 years. Federal data show 13.5 percent are structurally deficient and 15 are functionally obsolete.
  • Delaware has 448 bridges, with an average age of 42 years. Federal data show 7 percent are structurally deficient and 13 are functionally obsolete.
  • Otsego has 265 bridges, with an average age of 50 years. Federal data show 14 percent are structurally deficient and 12 are functionally obsolete.
  • Schuyler has 99 bridges, with an average age of 39 years. Federal data show 12 percent are structurally deficient and 6 are functionally obsolete.
  • Seneca has 59 bridges, with an average age of 52 years. Federal data show 24 percent are structurally deficient and 22 are functionally obsolete.
  • Steuben has 627 bridges, with an average age of 36 years. Federal data show 10 percent are structurally deficient and 8 are functionally obsolete.
  • Tioga has 217 bridges, with an average age of 44 years. Federal data show 17 percent are structurally deficient and 9 are functionally obsolete.
  • Tompkins has 195 bridges, with an average age of 50 years. Federal data show 17 percent are structurally deficient and 21 are functionally obsolete.
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